WASHINGTON DC: Airstrikes targeting civilian infrastructure in Syria’s rebel-held enclave of Idlib have become so common in recent months that they have ceased to be considered news by many Western media outlets, according to reports. human rights activists.
According to the Syrian Civil Defense, rebel-affiliated first responders, also known as the White Helmets, attacks by Bashar Assad’s regime and its foreign military backers have intensified, maiming and killing dozens of children.
A photograph released by the White Helmets in mid-November shows first responders lifting the lifeless body of a little girl from the rubble of what was once her home. Such images once made headlines. Now they barely fit on the media radar.
Since June this year, the White Helmets have documented the deaths of 63 children in air and artillery attacks on rebel-held northwest Syria. To highlight the issue, the group launched a social media hashtag campaign, #ChildrenUnderAttack.
Northwestern Syria receives minimal media attention whenever the UN extends a measure that allows cross-border aid into the region for a period of six months, as happened on Monday. About three million people live in Idlib, which remains outside the control of the Assad regime.
The green light for the continued passage of humanitarian supplies through the Bab Al-Hawa crossing point on the Syrian-Turkish border was given even though the Assad government did not approve of this decision and the Security Council did not vote on the matter.
Many analysts argue that Assad has “won” the Syrian civil war and therefore the international community should accept the new status quo. However, teachers in rebel-held areas said the world was wrong to simply turn a blind eye to the regime’s crimes.
School staff in Idlib recently published an open letter with the help of UK-based charity, The Syria Campaign, urging world leaders not to forget the region’s children who are living under near bombardment. dailies.
“We are the teachers of students in northwestern Syria who are deliberately targeted in their homes, classrooms and on their way to school,” the letter reads. “We go to work in fear of another attack and another traumatic day, which we know will affect our students for the rest of their lives.
“Our letter could not be more urgent. Early Wednesday, October 20, four students and our colleague, Arabic teacher Qamar Hafez, were tragically killed on their way to school when Syrian government forces attacked the southern town of Ariha. from Idlib, with artillery shells.
“A million children in Idlib are terrified of being next or losing their best friend at any time. Like teachers around the world, we care deeply about the children we teach and we do everything we can to try to protect them, but it’s not enough. We need world leaders to end the attacks and ensure that children are safe and can continue their education.
Children have borne the brunt of Syria’s conflict, which began more than a decade ago when anti-government protests were met with violent repression, sparking a civil war.
According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, another UK-based monitor, at least 29,661 children have been killed in Syria since March 2011, 22,930 of them at the hands of regime forces.
In its latest report, released November 20 to coincide with Universal Children’s Day, the network said at least 1,197 schools and 29 kindergartens had been completely or partially destroyed in Syria since March 2011.
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An estimated 2.5 million children in Syria are out of school, and another 1.6 million are at risk of dropping out, according to UNICEF, which estimates that nine out of 10 children in Syria live in poverty and more 5,700 children – some as young as seven – were recruited to fight.
According to UNICEF, 512 children were killed in attacks last year, most of them in northwestern Syria. About 1.7 million vulnerable children reside in rebel-held areas, most of whom have been repeatedly displaced by successive regime offensives. There are currently at least 2.5 million displaced children in Syria.
First responders documented the impact of the war on the mental health of children living in the region’s displacement camps. Aid workers called this trend a “psychological disaster that threatens this generation and future generations in Syria”.
Speaking to Arab News, Layla Hasso, Syrian Advocacy Director for the Hurras Network, a child protection NGO, said: “The goal is to terrify the half a million children who live in the province. of Idlib and to send a clear message to their families. there is no future for their children here. This is why civilians are targeted at their homes, their schools, their hospitals.
“That’s what I call terrorism and it has to stop. The international community cannot continue to turn a blind eye to this horror.
However, anecdotal evidence suggests that news consumers around the world are fatigued by the relentless stream of images of devastation emanating from the region. As a result, global concern about Syria and its people has noticeably diminished in recent years.
Analysts say this indifference, coupled with the inaction of the UN Security Council, encouraged the regime to continue its bombing campaign. By giving the Syrian crisis a human face, The Syria Campaign hopes to rekindle international interest in the plight of Idlib’s children.
“Teachers have come together to write this letter to remind world leaders that Syrian and Russian forces continue to bomb civilians, including children, in northwestern Syria without any accountability,” said Sara Hashash. , director of communications at The Syria Campaign, to Arab News.
“Children in northwestern Syria are traumatized and unable to go to school due to constant shelling and displacement. A child has been killed almost every other day for the past four months.
“On November 15, two children were killed by Syrian regime artillery fire at Kafr Nouran in rural Aleppo. It is frustrating that many of these attacks no longer receive widespread media coverage.
Media silence on the issue has translated into political inaction. The Assad regime is already welcomed back into the regional fold. Many believe it may only be a matter of time before Western and moderate Arab powers accept that Assad is here to stay.
In remarks to reporters on November 11, Ned Price, spokesman for the US State Department, said: “This (Biden) administration will not express any support for efforts to normalize or rehabilitate Bashar Assad, who is a brutal dictator.
He said: “There has been no change in our position and Bashar Assad has certainly said nothing that would rehabilitate his image or suggest that he or his regime change their ways.”
In his column for Asharq Al-Awsat, Syrian commentator Ibrahim Hamidi recently wrote: “As things stand, the room for maneuver is now limited to two options: the first is to engage Assad and end his the isolation of Damascus in the hope of dampening the influence of Iran. . Some Arab countries have indeed gone ahead with normalization, demanding that Damascus begin to subdue Iran in Syria and the region.
“The second option is to bank on the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his ability to bring Iran under control. This option stems from the position that the war had brought Putin and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei together in Syria, but peace and normalization will separate them.
For better or worse, according to Hashash of the Syrian campaign, the normalization effort is still limited to regional leaders. “Internationally, Assad is still largely isolated and dependent on support from Russia and Iran, and heavily sanctioned by the US and EU,” she told Arab News.
“Regional leaders who seem ready to overlook Assad’s crimes must be reminded that there can be no real peace in Syria without justice and accountability.”
According to the White Helmets, the number of civilian casualties has increased dramatically since the regime and Russia began using laser-guided artillery from Krasnopol. The group claims that several members of the same family are often killed in such strikes.
The White Helmets allege that regime artillery and Russian jets deliberately targeted schools and deprived children of an education.
Reports from the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic corroborate many of their claims that residential areas, markets and medical facilities were deliberately targeted, often indiscriminately.
As the Russian military controls Idlib airspace and operates an air base in neighboring Latakia province, local medical and aid workers are unequivocally pointing the finger.
The Russian government has consistently and vigorously denied responsibility for the airstrikes, as well as accusations that its forces indiscriminately attack civilians.
Against this backdrop of conflicting narratives, Hashash has a message for the international media: he must speak to Syrians to amplify their voices and ensure their narrative is highlighted when reporting on the war-torn country.
“When stories are told, the world will listen,” she said.
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